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Students Break Down COVID-19 Research

Students Break Down COVID-19 Research

Having trouble keeping up with all of the COVID-19 information in your news feed?

Join the Club.

Shortly after the pandemic began, students across Rush University came together to start the Rush University COVID-19 Journal Club to sift through the staggering amount of news and research about the virus. Their work is making the science more accessible not only to health care workers but also the general public.

The group now has more than 70 members across the University’s four colleges, including third-year Rush Medical College students Bijan Zarrabi and Morgan Sturgis, who recently talked about the initiative’s work and how it began.

Tell us about the COVID Journal Club.

Bijan Zarrabi: On our webpage and Instagram page we create summaries of research articles and topics that show up in the news to discuss the study design, findings and limitations of each research article. That includes topics such as drugs used to treat COVID and the vaccine trials.

Our audience tends toward medical professionals and students, but we're slowly gaining a following from the general public, especially on the Instagram page that Morgan is running.

Morgan Sturgis: On our Instagram page, we make the information a bit more digestible and user friendly, and that has allowed us to reach an even broader audience. So instead of just practicing physicians, now we're reaching the general public. We're reaching people like our parents and grandparents who want to know about these hot topics.

How did the idea begin?

BZ: It started around April when Dr. Beth Hall, a recent Rush Medical College graduate, and I were recruited by Dr. Elizabeth Baker, senior associate dean of the college, and Scott Thompson, director of the Library of Rush University Medical Center and our faculty adviser, to organize a group of students who expressed interest in participating in research efforts related to COVID-19.

We saw that there were thousands of articles being published on COVID-19, so it's nearly impossible to read every single paper thoroughly. The alternative is reading only the abstracts of those papers. But if you do that, you're not truly able to understand the clinical implications or limitations of each paper. So we decided to create the Journal Club so that we can help people stay up-to-date on the news literature in time-efficient way.

What motivated you to get involved?

MS: This has just been such a stressful and really unique time for everyone. As medical students, we have seen a lot of our upperclassmen, as well as the physicians who are training us, at the frontline as health care providers for people who have COVID-19.

This Journal Club has been a really meaningful way for us to contribute. While we can’t be there at the frontline, we can still contribute something positive to the field that we're so passionate about.

Do you have a particular interest in infectious disease?

MS: ID (infectious disease) has a special place in my heart. My most influential premedical mentor was a man named Dr. Wayne Campbell, who has since passed away. But he was a really well-known ID doctor on the East Coast, and he had this contagious — pun very much intended — passion that sparked my interest in ID and really solidified my pursuit of a medicine as a career.

At the end of the day, I think ID has a place in any field of medicine, but I definitely have an interest in it and love learning about it. ID is not something that discriminates. It impacts every single person across the world. And I think you can just have a really broad impact in medicine once you understand it.

What have been your biggest takeaways from sorting through all the research as part of the COVID-19 Journal Club?

MS: Especially at the very beginning, the recommendations and the protocols surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic were just constantly evolving and, quite frankly, really confusing. So I think one of my biggest takeaways has been how essential clear communication and patient education are. The Journal Club has reminded me how important these two pillars of medicine are.

We get to cater to this really diverse audience that has changed throughout the course of the Journal Club. And one thing we've been able to do through that is provide an opportunity for people outside of the medical community to ask the questions that are heavy on their minds and hearts. They can ask for a breakdown of some drug they had never heard of but is common in our vocabulary as people in the medical field.

BZ: I completely agree. One of my other big takeaways is realizing the power that a small group of students has in being able to come together and generate something so unique but also really useful. I feel like students at Rush are really eager to help others while also educating themselves. Also, the people involved, like Morgan and our leadership, have been so great at what they do, so it inspires you and pushes you to be better and work harder.

What do you hope people will take away from your work?

BZ: I hope people learn the importance of keeping themselves informed through credible research and the importance of reading those articles critically. As Morgan said, there is so much information coming at us about COVID-19. It’s like trying to drink water from a fire hose. We’re trying to improve the clarity of the information we’re receiving.

Seems like you all work well as a group. What has that experience been like?

BZ: People are so good at stepping up and are so excited to work on this project. The leadership has been so versatile in terms of taking on different responsibilities. We wouldn’t be where we are if it wasn’t for the group’s leaders.

MS: When you start something from the ground up, leadership is so essential. It sets the tone. We have such a great leadership board, from first-year medical students to current physicians. We really have a broad spectrum of experience, but there’s a common interest in advocacy, research, education and lifelong learning that really brought us together.